For the first time in months it’s light when I wake in the morning and as we draw close to twelve full hours of daylight I have had some time to reflect on our first Alaskan winter. When we first decided to spend the winter here one of the first things people would say to me was, “But isn’t Alaska dark in winter?”
Truth be told the short winter days were both a draw and a fear of mine. There was (and still is) something so alluring about the cold Alaska darkness in winter. It seems so cozy and quaint while at the same time long and hard. I was concerned about depression and boredom but also drawn here by cups of hot cocoa shared around a warm fire.
In reality we had very little time to sit around and be bored or depressed. And while we have had our fair share of hot cocoa the truth is it was mostly shared in the car on the way home from one of our many winter excursions. We never felt locked up in the cabin. In fact I feel I got out and about more this winter than in any winter I spent in the lower 48.
How Dark is Alaska in Winter?
Yes, the days are short and winter in Alaska is dark. but it’s not as dark as you may think. And it’s definitely not depressing.
Alaska is big!
While towns in the extreme north like Utqiagvik go weeks without seeing the sun the vast majority of Alaska has at least some daylight all year. It varies from Fairbanks where the shortest day is 3 hours and 41 minutes of daylight to Juneau with 6 hours and 22 minutes of sunlight. Somewhere in the middle is the Anchorage area where our shortest day is 5 hours of daylight.
Dusk and Dawn are Long
Before sunrise and after sunset there are extended periods of dawn and twilight so while you might not see the sun for very long there is visible light. This is the most surprising part of winter here. The whole world seems to glow in beautiful shades of blue, pink and purple for much of the day. It’s the most magical thing to experience.
The Sun Seems to Rise and Set in the South
It’s odd really. I’ve read even in the lower 48 there is some movement of the sun along the western horizon as well, but up here the sun seems to go all the way to the south. Between the odd position of the sun and the gloriously weird glow of an extended dawn and twilight there is somewhat of an otherworldly feel to the darkness of Alaska in winter.
The Short Days are Short Lived
Its incredibly striking how quickly the days shorten and then how rapidly they grow longer. Depending on where in Alaska you are the days can grow longer by 10 minutes or more a day after the solstice! It happens so quickly that before you know it the days are so long that it seems just as unusual as the short ones.
The Darkness of Winter is End and Spring is Approaching
As the days grow longer I actually miss my winter mornings. I have never slept so long or so well. December mornings I would wake up and wrapped in a warm blanket sip my coffee while gazing at the stars and watch the moon set. Mid morning the sky turns a brilliant blue– my Mary Hour I would call it; the perfect time to say a rosary and start my day.
As the sky transforms to pink and eventually golden the snow just glistens and the world is new and clean and fresh.
One thing about Alaska is that you are acutely aware of your smallness in the universe and this feeling is amplified in winter. From the long hours of stargazing in the morning darkness to the movement of the sun along the horizon Alaska in winter constantly reminds you that you are living on a little tiny ball in an endless universe. You can’t escape the realization that earth really is a planet in a vast universe.
There is definitely a spiritual component to Alaska’s darkness in winter. I feel almost overwhelmed at the sight of millions of stars in the dark sky; or even fearful by the notion of how big the universe is and how tiny we are in it. It brings to mind so poignantly a childhood memory of studying the gifts of the Holy Spirit– I finally understand what is truly meant by “wonder and awe” or “fear of the Lord”. The greatness and might of God is so powerfully evident here. We are so very small.
Final Thoughts on Alaskan Darkness in Winter
Winter in Alaska is not cloaked in the “darkness”, but it’s bathed in a mystical light that is stunning beyond imagination. Though short lived the hours of sun are breathtaking and make you feel alive and grateful. You are more aware of the sun, the warmth, the light. And that is such a gift.
I love Alaska in winter. Truly. It’s pure magic.